Letting Johnson Fly To Jets Won't Haunt Titans
By Mike Edler
The Tennessee Titans released former first-round pick and six-year veteran Chris Johnson last week, ending an era of ups and downs in Nashville. The loss of Johnson affects the Titans’ future plans, but more importantly, it speaks to the changing tides of the NFL: notably, the death of the run game.
The Titans join some elite company with the task of replacing an iconic running back. Remember, at one point Johnson was considered the “face of the franchise” by many. How did replacing Barry Sanders go for the Detroit Lions? Or Curtis Martin for the New York Jets? But the Titans do have something that both of those teams lacked -- the benefit of competing in an era of football that is moving away from the feature running back.
Now more than ever, the running back is near the point of irrelevancy, as the Golden Age of quarterbacks is in full swing. Look at the upcoming NFL Draft and ask yourself how many running backs are going in the first round.
The answer is one at most and more likely to be zero. Playing running back is becoming more about play-making ability, not to mention the ability to pass block, and less about one guy who can carry the ball 40 times a game.
The Titans will likely be moving toward a backfield by committee, shared by the likes of Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster, Jackie Battle and whomever Tennessee decides to draft. Taking into account the current state of the league and what Johnson’s cap number was supposed to be, you could make the argument that the Titans are better now going forward.
Johnson was a playmaker, there is no denying that, but what was he actually worth? Since he was drafted in 2008, Johnson has run for no gain or worse 410 times. That's 23.5% of his total carries.
Both numbers are tops in the league during this period, and as Johnson turns 29 in September, don’t expect those stats to improve. Johnson also had some off-field and locker-room baggage in Tennessee that could have always been a distraction behind closed doors. Remember, he was rumored to have been one of the “cancers” tight end Delanie Walker spoke of.
With the way the NFL is trending -- combined with Johnson’s depleting production and his overall attitude -- it isn’t out of the question to think the Titans win this transaction easily by subtraction.
The Titans don’t have to replace CJ2K; that player is gone. They have to replace his 1,077 yards in 2013 between four different running backs. The age of Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster and Chris Johnson is winding down, and the NFL is changing. The Titans now are ahead of the curve.